Shared prosperity in Durham
requires each of us to commit to our public schools now.
Editorial by Magan Gonzales-Smith, Executive Director, Durham Public Schools Foundation
In their top ten education issues facing North Carolina in 2019, the NC Public School Forum named “Renewing North Carolina’s Commitment to Public Schools for the Public Good” as the number one issue. The Forum, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization supporting public education statewide, identified state-level policies that have led to disinvestment in public education.
Recommitting to public education at the state level is essential. But this commitment must start at home — right here in Durham. When we come together, our community has the power to shape the vision for the public schools our students deserve, support our district in implementing that vision, and provide local investment that will make transformative change possible.
Supporting and transforming Durham Public Schools (DPS) is essential to Durham’s growth and prosperity. When we have public schools in which every student can thrive, then Durham will be a place that can both attract the jobs of the future and prepare our students for those jobs.
Durham has brilliant students and committed educators. The 33,000 students in DPS today are our city’s future. It is time that we all step up and do right by them.
In fall 2018, DPS educators, parents and alumni and business and civic leaders made a major move in this direction by launching the Durham Public Schools Foundation to build broad community support and investment in public education in Durham. Working in partnership with DPS, we can realize the promise of public education when our community simultaneously invests on two fronts.
First, we must create transformative learning environments by supporting students, educators and families to develop innovative and equitable practices. This year the DPS Foundation will work with community and business partners to launch education innovation fellowships. Students and teachers will identify a big challenge they experience in education, receive mentorship to develop a new strategy to address it as well as funding and support to pilot their solution.
As the district embarks on its ambitious strategic plan, our school communities also have a critical voice in shaping the vision for culturally responsive schools that create equitable outcomes for students. This work will begin with understanding what’s happening in every school today and lifting up educators who are leading meaningful equity efforts in their schools that can be scaled district-wide.
Second, we must commit to public education by enrolling children in our public schools — thus ensuring that Durham has racially and socioeconomically integrated schools that are best positioned to prepare all of our students for working, living and thriving in diverse environments. Today, about 30% of families, predominantly those with the most resources, are opting out of DPS. The consistent decline in enrollment in DPS over recent years poses an enormous threat to our ability to build the public schools Durham’s students deserve.
Families choosing to not enroll in Durham Public Schools give us the important message that they don’t think their needs will be met. We need to listen to them and learn from that feedback — but we also need them committed to fulfilling the promise of public education as a public good. Every time a family opts out of DPS, it makes the work harder to improve and strengthen our schools. Those families are not directly engaged to help drive changes, and the district has fewer resources to meet increasingly growing student needs.
Something else important happens when families leave: it sends a message to the families still in our public schools. As 2018 MacArthur Genius winner and former N&O reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote about deciding where to send her daughter to school, “Saying my child deserved access to ‘good’ public schools felt like implying that children in ‘bad’ schools deserved the schools they got, too. I understood that so much of school segregation is structural… [but] it is the choices of individual parents that uphold the system.”
Durham will reach its full potential when our community invests in transformative learning environments that ensure all our students not only attend school together but thrive together. Now is the time for all of us to renew our commitment to Durham Public Schools and its ability to nourish the brilliance in every student. Sign up at bullcityschools.org to stay up to date on opportunities to support and join Durham Public Schools Foundation’s community-led effort to build the public schools that all our students deserve.
Magan Gonzales Smith’s passion for public education and commitment to education justice is shaped by being the daughter of a first-generation college student and her decade of work with urban school districts.
Magan has dedicated her career to working with public school students, educators and school district leaders to dismantle barriers to success for students of color and other historically marginalized students. Most recently, Magan served as Associate Director of Insights & Impact for Hill Learning Center where she built research partnerships and supported YE Smith Elementary and Eastway Elementary on delivering literacy strategies for struggling readers.
Her past work includes recruiting public school teachers in partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Education, designing teacher and principal professional growth systems in Detroit with TNTP (The New Teacher Project), creating policy strategy for the NC Large District Superintendent Consortium, and managing teacher grants for the Asheville City Schools Foundation.
Magan received her B.A. in Political Science from George Washington University and her Master’s in Public Policy from Duke University. Magan grew up in North Carolina and she and her husband now make their home in East Durham.
Magan can be reached at email@example.com.